By Kelly Baughman

As many of us know, dating on the Gulf Coast isn’t always a day at the beach. With a revolving door of tourists who are only here for a brief moment in time and a seemingly “two degrees of separation” between the locals that pretty much guarantees you either know the person’s entire history or you’re related somehow, navigating single life in the sand (especially after the age of 30) can be tricky.
I personally think I tried it all. I dated the tourists. I dated the locals. I stopped dating altogether in hopes that the old adage “it happens when you stop looking” was true. It’s not.
At the urging of my friends who wanted to get me back in the game before I became the isolated ice queen of Perdido Key like Elsa in Frozen, I joined the dating site Tinder. At first it was fun. Swiping left or right in the privacy of my own home was great, but the thought of actually meeting any of these people in person just sounded crazy.
Once again, at the urging of my friends, I decided it was time to take this seriously. When choosing my first semi-blind date, I scrutinized the profiles with a fine toothed comb. Did I want to choose Rodney, the cross-eyed optometrist, James, the clearly 60+ wonder that had his age listed as 32, William, the unemployed NASCAR fan that wanted a “hot chick with a good job”, or Adam, the strange guy with the overly aggressive facial expression, slicked back ponytail, and satanic alter in the background of his profile pic? (I’m not even kidding….these were some of the real local profiles I had to choose from.)
I eventually settled on Robby, a good looking, divorced Marine with no children who seemed respectful and genuine. We went to dinner and chatted the night away. I was shocked. He was kind, engaging, and above all….normal. I agreed to a second date as we said goodbye and went home thinking. “Well that wasn’t so hard. He seemed pretty great.”
That sentiment quickly changed in the next few days as Robby began an offensive and downright weird chain of messages informing me that if I were to become his girlfriend that he expected certain things from me. The first being a wildly overstated circus freak chest augmentation that I’m sure would’ve caused me to need a walker and several back surgeries. The second being that I remain very scantily clad at all times, even in public, while in his presence. Yeah, dream on bro. The third stipulation was that I wasn’t to speak unless spoken to.
He was clearly unaware of who he was dealing with and obviously warped in the head. I blocked his number the same day.
The next date I went on was with a “contractor” from Mississippi here for several months for work. He was handsome enough in his pictures, and seemed like a nice enough guy from phone our conversations, so I agreed to meet him for a drink in a public place where I knew plenty of people.
When he showed up, he was toothless and had a friend in tow, who I later learned was his driver due to the fact that he’d lost his license. I didn’t ask why. Frankly, it didn’t matter.
I knew I wasn’t interested, but didn’t want to be impolite or hurt his feelings. He proceeded to drink several bushwhackers, then he disappeared. Fifteen minutes later, I received a text telling me that I was stuck up and awful in a drunken, misspelled tirade, followed by another that just said “FAT!”
As I sat there in my size 6 jeans, I thought to myself, “Am I fat? Is he right?” That thought process quickly dwindled when I reminded myself not to let a dude that can’t drive to the store for a toothbrush get in my head. This online dating thing obviously just wasn’t for me.
A few days later, I logged on with the intentions of deleting my account to find a message from a sweet, handsome, and very tall man named Wesley. He was on vacation and said he spotted my profile and knew he had to meet me. Barf. But keeping an open mind, I answered his polite message. To my surprise, he was funny, smart, successful, and very witty, a skill that I take very seriously and is definitely on my must have list.
We exchanged numbers and the moment I heard his voice, I knew he was going to be hard to resist. A gentlemanly southern drawl complimented his witty sarcasm, and intelligent conversation. His sense of humor was sharp and dark, much like mine, and he laughed at things that came out of my mouth that most would’ve blushed over.
We talked like teenaged girls for hours for a week or so before agreeing to meet, but once we did….I believe it was love at first sight. I knew after our first date that I was head over heels for this man.
The cynical me waited for the other shoe to drop over the course of the next year, sure that his dark side was lurking around in there somewhere just waiting to come out, but it never came. Instead, all I’ve ever gotten from him is 100% honesty, loyalty, and kindness. He never yells or belittles me. He’s supportive and encouraging. He’s smart, driven, and wildly talented. But most of all, he’s my best friend that always keeps me laughing and smiling.
I once thought that relationships and marriage were a struggle, and that no one is happy every day. I was wrong. Since the day I met Wesley, I’ve been blissfully happy. Every. Single. Day.
Last week, on the one year anniversary of that fateful first date when he stole my heart and didn’t even know it, he took me back to the place where we met and got down on one knee to ask for my hand in marriage.
The proposal was perfect, the ring was perfect, but most of all, he is perfect for me in every way possible. I never thought I’d find my happily ever after, and frankly never truly believed that it existed, but I’m living proof that if you date enough frogs here on the Gulf Coast, you’ll eventually find your perfect prince.
So keep your head up if you’re still out there waiting for your fairytale. There may be plenty of circus freaks and toothless snakes in the dating pool, but every once in a while, a good one slips through the cracks and gets plopped in there with the crazies. Don’t be afraid to take the leap, and don’t take it for granted. Just remember to always be kind and of course….don’t be the person that gets written about in the paper.